Human Rights Watch has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately release the two adult children and brother of exiled former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri
, who the group say are being held in incommunicado detention in a bid to coerce him back to the kingdom to face punishment.
Saad al-Jabri, an advisor to former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef
and a key liaison with Western spy agencies including MI6, left the kingdom for Canada in 2017 ahead of a purge led by bin Nayef's successor, Mohammed bin Salman
The rights group say al-Jabri's children Omar, 21, and Sarah, 20, were seized by security forces in their Riyadh home in March, just days after the detention of bin Nayef, in another purge of senior royals accused of treason.
Meanwhile, al-Jabri's brother, Abdulrahman al-Jabri, was arrested earlier this month without explanation after his home was raided by armed security officers.
"Saudi authorities are sinking to new lows in going after the families of former officials out of favor with the current leadership," said Michael Page, HRW's deputy Middle East director.
"How can anyone describe the Saudi leadership as reformist while it's arbitrarily detaining the children of former officials?" he added.
The group called on the Saudi authorities to immediately inform relatives of Omar and Sarah's whereabouts and well-being, release them from detention, and lift their travel bans.
Another of Saad al-Jabri's sons, Khalid, who also lives in exile in Canada, told the BBC
this month that his siblings are being held "hostage" to force their father back to the kingdom where he will likely face immediate arrest and imprisonment.
The sibling pair have been subject to a years-long campaign of harassment and restrictions since they attempted to flee the country just days after their father and the rest of the family in 2017.
However at the airport, they were stopped by officials and told they were banned from travel abroad, with no further explanation.
Since then, they have had their financial assets frozen and in 2018 and 2020 were summoned by the public prosecution for interrogation about their father's whereabouts.
In March 2020, they were told their father must return to Saudi Arabia.
Several days later, some 50 security officers arrived at their home at dawn in 20 cars, arrested Omar and Sarah, searched the house, seized CCTV footage and electronics, and put the pair in incommunicado detention.
The family house in Riyadh was then searched, the CCTV memory cards removed and the pair, aged 21 and 20 respectively, held incommunicado at a detention centre.
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"We don't even know if they are alive or dead," Khalid al-Jabri told BBC.
HRW says their detention may qualify as an enforced disappearance, since the authorities have not responded to the family's requests for information on their whereabouts.
The rights group has been informed that on 12 May, armed security agents conducted a raid on the home of Abdulrahman al-Jabri, an engineering professor at King Saud University, detaining him without explanation and without informing any of his relatives.
The campaign to force al-Jabri back to the country is likely linked to the crackdown on Mohammed bin Nayef and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a brother of King Salman, who are allegedly accused of plotting a coup against the crown prince.
However HRW says it is probable that the royals have been detained as punishment for complaining privately about Mohammed bin Salman.
In a bizarre incident earlier this month, the Saudi General Directorate of Prisons posted a tweet denying reports that bin Nayef had died, saying he had been hospitalised after suffering a heart attack.
However the tweet was swiftly deleted and the government issued a statement saying the Twitter account had posted "incorrect information" after being hacked.
Arbitrary arrests of fellow royals and critics has become a pattern Mohammed bin Salman's rule, despite his pledges to liberalise the kingdom through his flagship Vision 2030 programme of reforms.
Since deposing bin Nayef in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman has centralised power to an unprecedented degree, imprisoning swathes of critics and executing hundreds of opponents.
"Saudi Arabia’s recent justice reforms have not curbed the authorities’ contempt for the rule of law, showing the country needs a full overhaul of the justice and security sectors," Page said.
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